Turkish Bath

When we were in Baden Baden, Germany, last Fall, we really enjoyed the Roman-style bath we had at the Friedrichsbad. So, we decided to try a Turkish bath here in Istanbul for comparison.

Dale had read that only the Süleymaniye Hamami, “hamam” being the Turkish word for bath, makes provision for couples; all the other Turkish baths segregate men and women. So, off we went.

Süleymaniye was built in 1550 by and for Sultan Süleyman. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but the price for the full bath treatment (about $100 per couple) included round-trip shuttle from our hotel, which made it a pretty good deal.

Inside, Süleymaniye is pretty ornate. Here’s a view of the entry from the mezzanine:

The changing rooms are up on the mezzanine level. I can’t speak for what they do at the other hamams, but bathing at Süleymaniye is not in the nude. They give women red and white checkered shorts and bikini tops; men are given red and white checkered towels to wrap around their waists.

Here’s our escort, with Dale modeling her bikini top:

A Turkish bath is quite different from the German version of the Roman bath which includes steam rooms, hot rooms and hot and cold immersion pools where you follow a plan, but go at your own speed, with the option for a massage in the middle of the program.

The Turkish bath we had (and I believe this is typical of Turkish baths in tourist areas, anyway) consists of 45 minutes in a hot room, followed by an assisted, combination sudsing and wash, scrub, massage and rinse off that takes another 30 to 45 minutes. Let me explain.

The hot room, called the sıcaklık, is a single, domed room about 40 feet in diameter. In the center of the room is a raised marble slab, called the göbek taşı, that is about 15 feet square and 3 feet high. The hot room at Süleymaniye Hamami was heated to around 40°C (about 105°F) by a wood fire that, so far as I could figure out, was underneath the marble slab. There’s enough water splashed around to give the room a sauna feel, though there’s no steam to speak of.

After changing into towel, shorts and bikini, we were let in to the hot room and told to lay on the marble slab, which we did, although we had to put light towels down first; it was just too hot for us to lay on the hot marble with bare skin.

Around the hot room were 8 niches, 4 of which could be characterized as small bathing rooms. After 45 minutes, two attendants came in, one for each of us; they were both young men (the hamams only have male attendants). They directed us to one of the small bathing rooms where we were told to sit on the floor. The attendants then doused us with cool water, followed by a rather rough scrub with a course mitt to exfoliate the skin.

Next, our attendants had us climb up and lay down on elevated marble tables where they poured soap suds all over us and then proceeded to give us massages, using the soap like most masseurs use oil to knead the muscles. This washing massage lasted about 15 or 20 minutes, following which we were told to sit back on the floor where we were rinsed off. Then the attendants handed us dry towels and left.

We dried off and changed into dry towel wraps and were then led into a cooler room where we were served water and fruit juice. And that was it.

It was refreshing and relaxing, but given the option, we’d choose a Roman bath. We prefer the immersion pools, but then, of course, we go to the baths more for relaxation than to actually bathe, which is the focus of the Turkish bath.

I took the picture, above, in the mirror in the changing room, showing off our bathing costumes, but taking care to pixelate the photo to protect the innocent. Photography, of course, is not allowed inside the baths.

After the bath, we went back to Hotel Tashkonak to pick up our bags and check out. Tonight we’re staying at the WOW Airport Hotel, preparing for our 7:00 a.m. flight to Cappadocia in the interior of the country.

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